Rigas Ritmi Festival, Riga, Latvia, July 4-7, 2012
Grunte kept out of the spotlight, off to the left side of the stage, creating inventive rhythmic patterns around which Jansone and Orubs built some fascinating and spectacularly groovy tunes. The trio had formed only a few weeks before the concert, although the rhythm section players have performed together regularly in other settings, but this lack of experience as a band was rarely if ever in evidence. Jansone writes her own tunes, as well as having a deep understanding of her musical roots. The band performed numbers such as the lovely, traditional, "Puke, Puke, Roze, Roze" and Jansone's own, tougher, "Industrialais Vilcins" with equal verve and intensity. Towards the end of the set, when Jansone stood up to play and Grunte shifted to an electric upright bass to deliver a low down growling bass line, the trio created a powerful wall of sound that harked back to the rock power trios of old.
July 6: At The Open Air Leisure Park EGLE
The open air stage, in one of the old city's beautiful squares, was the setting for performances that grew out of two of the Festival's workshops. The Nils Wogram Trombone Show, an octet featuring five trombonists including Wogram, produced a set of funky, bluesy numbers that gave each player a chance to solo. Wogram, who also performed with his Nostalgia Trio earlier in the week, was a terrific player and composer who's enthusiasm seemed boundless. His fellow trombonists were equally enthusiastic and with the support of a rhythm section that once again included Orubs (this time playing a standard drum kit and sporting a Ginger Baker t-shirt), the group played an enjoyable set.
Dominique Eade led a workshop for vocalists which resulted in the second Friday evening concert at the Leisure Park: Riga Jazz Voices. The singers opened with a group performance of John Coltrane's "Village Blues," arranged and conducted by Eade, after which each of the singers gave solo performances of standards including "Autumn Leaves" and "Cry Me A River." It was especially pleasing to see that the singers gave performances, rather than simply singing the songs. They engaged the audience, projected their personalities and went to the heart of each songa credit to Eade's skills as an educator, as well as to their own talents.
July 7: The Riga Congress Center
The Congress Center was an impressive, if rather stark, concert hall, and the venue for Rigas Ritmi's big name concerts. The Saturday night concert offered an intriguing contrast between a full-on big band sound and the emotionally intense performance of singer Buika and her trio. Victor Bailey, who took on the bassist's role in Weather Report after Jaco Pastorius left the group, joined Riga's City Jazz Big Band in a tribute to Pastorius and keyboardist/WR co-founder Joe Zawinul. The City Jazz Big Band, directed by Karlis Vanags, was a straight-ahead jazz ensemble with that great big band ability to raise the roof one minute and play in a whisper the nextevidenced by its delivery of Pastorius' "Three Views Of A Secret," saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Elegant People" and Zawinul's "Birdland."
The set by Spanish flamenco vocalist Concha Buika, a favorite of film director Pedro Almodovar, was an intense, emotional experience. She's a striking and commanding onstage presence, with a unique and passionate approach to the interpretation of songs. Her backing musicians were also excellent, with Dany Noel's fretless bass guitar work sounding particularly fine. Her most engaging performance of the night was her rendition of Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas," with Buika singing Brel's original French lyrics accompanied by pianist Ivan Gonzalez Lewis.
Looking To The Future
The 2012 Rigas Ritmi Festival attracted over 10,000 audience members to the ticketed concerts and many others to the free open air gigs. Artistically, the audience responses emphatically declared its success. The Festival also looks to the future, providing a platform for younger musicians as a means to enhance their reputations and, hopefully, to help in expanding their careers. On that score, too, Rigas Ritmi should be declared a success. Personally, the find of the festival was the Laima Jansone Trioa band that brought a unique combination of the traditional kokle and contemporary jazz to the party and created some wonderful musicbut that's just one example of a strong young Latvian jazz scene.
All Photos: Bruce Lindsay